About head and neck cancer

Head and neck cancers do not discriminate by age, gender or ethnicity.

How many people are affected by head and neck cancers in the UK?

Twenty-five men and ten women are diagnosed with head and neck cancers per 100,000 people every year in the UK - two thirds of which are approximately men.

On average, 31 people are diagnosed every single day, which means nearly 11,500 cases each year.

How many people develop head and neck cancers?

Did you know that there are 35 diagnosed cases of head and neck cancers per 100,000 people every year in the UK, two-thirds of which are men? Head and neck cancers are not as well-known as many other forms of the disease. Every day in the UK, 31 people receive the devastating news that they have been diagnosed with a head and neck cancer.

Who is most at risk?

Smokers and drinkers are at particular risk, and data suggests that head and neck cancers affect more men than women, possibly because men are likely to smoke and drink more than women.

How is head and neck cancer treated?

As with many other cancers, treatments are still based on surgery to remove the cancerous cells, but what makes head and neck cancers stand out is that – unlike many other surgeries – the results, being in the facial region, are permanently visible to all. In addition, the most commonly-practised surgical procedures impact the senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell, as well as the vital functions of breathing, swallowing and speech.

The good news is that there are alternatives in different tumour groups that the Head and Neck Cancer Foundation aims to highlight. In patients with jaw tumours - originating in the teeth and called 'Ameloblastoma' - it is no longer necessary to have the jaw removed. A far smaller operation gives excellent results.

Similarly, much smaller operations are possible for salivary tumours in the parotid gland – especially benign tumours where the gland can be preserved.

Other new developments mean that patients with jaw necrosis secondary to cancer drugs or radiation therapy can avoid very large operations to remove and repair the damaged bone. In mouth cancer, we are pioneering the introduction of Sentinel Node Biopsy. It is an innovative procedure that detects the exact location of cancerous cells, so that resulting surgery will be less invasive.

What are the impacts of 'traditional' surgery?

As with many other cancers, treatments are still based on surgery, but what makes head and neck cancers stand out is that - unlike many other surgeries - the results, being in the facial region, are invasive and permanently visible to all. In addition, the impact of such surgery can also have further ramifications as the head and neck area is where our senses and vital functions converge in a relatively small space; sight, hearing, smell, taste, breathing, swallowing and speech.